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Severn Valley timewarps back to the age of the 'Mechanical Horse' (13th May 2013)

Severn Valley timewarps back to the age of the 'Mechanical Horse'

Rare survivor: one of the tiny handful of working examples of a Scammell Mechanical Horse, in Great Western Railway chocolate & cream livery, seen at the Severn Valley Railway's Bewdley station. For high resolution copies of this and other images, please scroll down to the end of this release.

THE SEVERN Valley Railway goes into ‘time warp’ mode on Friday, to revive for three days a form of road transport that disappeared in the 1960s – that of the Mechanical Horse.

These three-wheeled ‘tractors’ and their articulated two-wheeled trailer units built by Scammell - once a common sight at railway stations right around the country and used extensively to deliver parcels and goods locally - were literally the motorised successor to the horse-drawn carts of the old railway companies – but they were phased out almost 50 years ago along with the age of steam.

Scammell built more than 30,000 of these versatile, turn-on-a-sixpence lorries in three versions between 1934 and 1968 – the original Mechanical Horse (pictured above), its successor the Scammell Scarab, and the futuristic-looking Scammell Townsman – but only 120 or so still survive, and few of them are in working order.

In the circumstances, its perhaps not too surprising that the gathering of around a dozen working examples for the SVR’s ‘Mechanical Horse Weekend’, has event organiser John Giles enthusiastically pumped up.

“It’s rare to see even one of these wonderful old vehicles – so to see about a  dozen of them buzzing around Kidderminster’s cobbled station forecourt in the course of a day, really is giving history a bit of a shake-up” he said.

But there’s another reason why the three-day event – from Friday through to Sunday (May 17th – 19th) is special – and that’s because it marks both the 30th anniversary of the Mechanical Horse Club, formed in 1983 by those who own and appreciate these unique machines, and also the 80th anniversary of the construction of the first ‘Mechanical Horse’ by Scammell, at its factory in Watford.

Providing they are not carrying any payload, today’s surviving ‘Horses’ are exempt from the need for an MoT certificate – but  with a top speed of just 18mph, most of those which will be put through their paces over the coming weekend, will arrive at the railway’s Kidderminster Town terminus station on transporter vehicles.
The vehicles will be grouped into three displays – one on the station forecourt, another under the glazed canopy of the station’s concourse, and a third at the entrance to the SVR’s car park, but all will be ‘rotated’ each day to provide variety.

Included amongst examples of the original 1930s-design ‘Mechanical Horse ‘ will be two in Great Western Railway ‘chocolate & cream’ livery, one in the classic red paintwork of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, and another in the distinctive green livery that was a hallmark of the Southern Railway – all railway companies which by 1948 had ceased to exist.

They will be joined by at least five examples of the later Scammell Scarab’, three of which will display the British Railways red and cream livery style fondly remembered by many over-50s, and another in the livery of British Road Services, the transport company created in 1948 by the nationalisation of Britain’s road haulage industry. 

Private-owner examples of both types will also be represented, along with an example of the Scammell Townsman, while The Mechanical Horse Club will have its own stand and present a historical display of photographs.

Kidderminster Railway Museum will be open, and Severn Valley Railway trains will run on all three days of ‘Mechanical Horse Weekend’, with different timetables in force each day. On Friday, the first trains start from Kidderminster at 10.35 and from Bridgnorth at 10.25, on Saturday from Kidderminster at 9.55 and from Bridgnorth at 11.10, and on Sunday from Kidderminster at 10.25 and Bridgnorth at 10.55